Pastors' Memoirs

Mark Clelland Whipple, 1954-1988

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Mark Whipple, a devoted husband and father whose life was committed to proclaiming the Good News, died February 28, 1988, at age 34.

He was the husband of Chris Whipple and father of Kimberly, 9; Matthew, 3; and Jessica, 9 months; the son of Jack and Jane Whipple of Clinton, Iowa; and the brother of Lynne of Boston.

He had held pastoral positions in these locations: 1980, associate pastor of Faith United Methodist Parish, Centerville, Iowa; 1982, McCanless Memorial, South Boston; 1983, Tyler, Hampton; 1985, Fellowship-Linville-Edom; 1986, Whaleyville-Somerton.

He was a 1976 graduate of the University of Iowa and a 1979 graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary. He was ordained a deacon in the United Methodist Church in 1978 and an elder in 1981.

His widow and children now make their home in Clinton, Iowa. 

[Editor's Note: The following tribute to the Rev. Mark C. Whipple first appeared in the Sun, a community news section of The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger Star. The author, John Pruitt, is editor of the Sun and is lay leader of Whaleyville United Methodist Church.] 

It was one of those days that played across so many stages of life. The early part of Tuesday, March 1, was spent helping finalize a memorial service for a friend who died much too young. And that evening, our family heard students at Elephant's Fork Elementary School sing, with an exuberance reserved for children, of the promise of spring and the new life it brings,

My friend, Mark C. Whipple, also was my pastor. Just as his life touched so many people, his death also has affected more lives than he possibly could have imagined.

A modest person who was a far better listener than talker, I think he would have been surprised that his influence went beyond the sphere of his congregations, Somerton and Whaleyville United Methodist churches. That it did was so obvious at the memorial service and in the offerings of sympathy to his widow.

Such a tragedy -- was 33 and the father of children 9 years old, 3 years old and 9 months old -- brings more questions than can ever be answered.

Why does such a young man die when many older, suffering people who would find sweet relief in death linger on? Why are these children deprived of a father, his widow robbed of a spouse? And why should his pastorates be so grieved?

Mark's answers, of course, would be in his faith. Yet he undoubtedly would tell us that some questions simply do not have answers. In getting to know Mark, I got to know some of the triumphs and defeats of being a minister. Despite growing up in the church,

I never before had given much consideration to the special qualities demanded of the shepherd leading a flock of unique individuals. Imagine a job in which every single person you lead is, in effect, your boss.

Imagine a job description that calls for you to be tender and compassionate with every member of your congregation, yet demands that you be thick-skinned enough to withstand any barb hurled your way.

Imagine being expected to be a model family man, yet being expected also to spend full time visiting hospitalized members, shut- ins and anyone who might need the special support of a minister,

Add to that the requirement that you always be inspiring in the pulpit, even when things that would bring most of us down have taken their toll.

It's not that Mark complained about these things. He knew when he got into the ministry what the demands would be. And despite being sometimes physically down because of heart problems, he kept right on going.

In fact, he talked about that in his last sermon, proclaiming that it is far better to burn out than to rust out.

Mark would expect his family and friends to keep right on going now. We really don't have much choice, I think he would say. But beyond that, he also would say that for those of the Christian faith, life goes on. Including his.

As we watched the elementary school children Tuesday night, I thought of Mark. I think he would have found it uplifting to know that on the same day his friends mourned him, there was a children's program titled, "Spring is Near."

I think he would have proclaimed "Amen'" when a children's chorus sang with enthusiasm, "Gonna rise up singing/It's a brand new day'"

 -John Pruitt




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Background photos courtesy of VDOT.

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